Do you have a game meat processing horror story?
We’ve heard our fair share, like this one from Nick Duncombe, aka Wyoming Hunter. And a quick Google search reveals that it can get much worse — the forums are full of tales about meat full of metal shards, ridiculously low yields, and deer left out of the cooler for days.
You put a lot of work into getting that deer (or elk, or antelope). How do you make sure you end up with plenty of delicious meat to share with your friends and family?
Of course, you could always DIY it. Here’s a guide to building your own home meat processing shop. If you choose this route, we’ve got a walk-in cooler for you!
But if you’re not quite ready to do it all yourself, here are 10 things to look for when selecting a meat processor.
1. Good reviews
While you’re swapping stories around the campfire, ask your hunting buddies where they take their kills. Also, check out online forums — hunters are a friendly bunch and they’re often happy to share their knowledge, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Before making a final decision, be sure to check out reviews. Currently, meat processors are most likely to have reviews on Google and Facebook, but you can even find some on Yelp.
2. Meat processor cleanliness
Meat processing shops shouldn’t look dirty or smell bad. If yours does, find a new one. Ashley McGee over at Wide Open Spaces recommends asking for a tour of the facility. If they say no, they might have something to hide.
3. Drop-off times
Have you ever bagged a deer and headed off to the processor only to find them closed? Some processors now have 24-hour drop-off so you don’t have to wait. Be aware that many who offer this convenience require you to gut the animal in advance.
4. Plenty of cooler space
In his article on deer processing horror stories, Deer & Deer Hunting editor Dan Schmidt recounts a time when he dropped a buck and a doe off on Saturday only to return on Tuesday to find the carcasses among others in a pile in the barn, rather than in the cooler. Understandably, he was “livid.”
Before you drop your meat off at a processor, make sure they have room for it in the cooler.
5. Desired aging time
Aging time goes hand in hand with cooler space. Two weeks is ideal. But it’s common for aging times to be shorter during busy season as processors rush to make room for new meat coming in.
If you can’t find a meat processor who will age your meat long enough, you could build your own cooler and age it yourself. As an added advantage, by holding onto your meat until after the rush, you might be able to get a better deal.
6. A tagging system
One of the biggest complaints hunters have about meat processors is that they don’t get their own meat back. Instead, the processor weighs the carcass that comes in and then just gives you an equivalent amount of meat. If you’ve ever killed a deer with a clean shot through the ribcage, but then got back meat filled with metal shards, you know what this is like.
Some processors admit to doing this upfront. Other, shadier ones, just do it without telling you about it.
To avoid this situation, look for a processor that uses a tagging system to track your meat from the minute you drop it off until the minute you pick it up.
7. Product variety
If you want all of your meat back as burger or sausage, you don’t need to worry about this too much. But, if you want a variety — like tenderloin, backstrap, and shanks — make sure your processor supplies these products. If they offer products you haven’t tried before, ask for a sample! You might find your new favorite.
8. Product yield
Low yield is another major complaint about meat processors. Several factors go into determining how much yield you’ll get, including the size of the animal, whether or not you field dress it, what products you ask for, and if there’s any damage. But somewhere in the range of 35% is typical (if you DIY it, your yield will be higher).
Here are some commonly cited guidelines attributed to Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine:
- Carcass weight = Field-dressed weight divided by 1.331
- Ideal boneless venison weight = Carcass weight multiplied by 0.67
- Realistic venison yield = Ideal boneless weight multiplied by 0.70
For an easier at-a-glance guide, check out this Venison Yield Chart for Whitetail Deer from the Alfred NY Community Website.
9. Packaging and labeling
Will you get your meat back wrapped in butcher paper or vacuum sealed? If you’re planning to store it in the freezer, vacuum sealing will keep it fresher longer. Also make sure the labels are clear, easy to read, and won’t fade over time.
Last but not least, how much will it cost you? Is the price per pound or is there a flat rate? How much will you save if you skin the animal yourself?
Meat processors have different pricing schemes, but they should be able to provide you with a price list. This is important so you don’t feel ripped off (but don’t just go for the cheapest price either — you may be sacrificing quality).
Also ask if you’ll need to pay a deposit when you drop off the animal. If you do, it will likely be in cash, so don’t be caught with an empty wallet.
There you go! Our top 10 things to look for when selecting a meat processor. Did we miss anything? We’d love to hear any tips you might have!
If you’re thinking about bypassing the meat processor altogether and doing it yourself, we can help by providing the cold storage you need! Learn how David Draper’s keeping his meat fresh this year.